Betting on love

‘New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas’ includes cast members who liked the odds when it came to getting married in the famed gambling capital.

Cheryl Coddington’s son phoned her on a Sunday night and asked where she’d been all weekend.

“Brent and I got married in Las Vegas,” she replied.

“Yeah, right, like you’d do that,” she remembers him telling her. She was the ultra-organized mom, the career educator who planned everything weeks or months in advance. To skip off to Vegas without telling anyone — especially even her kids — was unthinkable.

A big group of more than 50 cast members in costume on stage at Fresno City College for New Wrinkles.
A chorus line: Members of the cast of “New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas” pose before rehearsal begins. Photo / Donald Munro

Oh, she did it all right. And she’s been married nearly 17 years.

Coddington is sitting in the Green Room at Fresno City College, where she’s just slipped away from warm-ups for the cast of “New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas,” the latest incarnation of the long-running musical variety show featuring performers 55 and older. She’s in costume, wearing a glittery top with the words “Bingo Diva,” one of her roles in the show. Now in its 29th year, the annual production is one of the few senior showcases left in a country that used to be full of them.

In the spirit of the show’s theme, I asked Coddington, 63, a first-time “Wrinkler,” to share her Las Vegas matrimonial story with me. It was a third marriage for her new husband and the second for her. They’d been dating a long time, and the couple decided they “didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.” So they hopped in the car, made the six-hour drive to Las Vegas Boulevard and parked at the Chapel of the Bells.

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‘Heart’ and soul

Good Company Players production of ‘Damn Yankees’ offers a snappy fealty to the game of baseball


Even more people would say “The Devil made me do it” if Terry Lewis really were that Devil.

As the smooth-talking Applegate — the sharply dressed stranger never quite identified as Satan in “Damn Yankees” — Lewis is suave without seeming smarmy, duplicitous without jogging “Exorcist” memories. He offers a relaxed vibe best described as slightly wry. That sensibility is key if you’re going to pull off this big-hearted 1950s musical about baseball and soul selling more than 60 years later. You have to acknowledge the show’s aw-shucks mindset and earnest genuflections to America’s favorite pastime while not getting bogged down in it.

Four fans surround baseball great Joe Hardy, played by Tim Smith, in the Good Company Players production of 'Damn Yankees.'
Baseball groupies: Tim Smith, as Joe Hardy, enjoys the adulation of his fans in ‘Damn Yankees.’ Photo / Good Company Players

Lewis, decked out in a satiny red dinner jacket and evil looking socks, knows just how to calibrate his character to a modern sensibility without making the material seem annoyingly dated. Sure, Applegate is a bit of a boor when it comes to women. (At one point he tells an ambitious female reporter to “go home, get married, have children.”) But even when his character sounds as if he’s campaigning for an open U.S. Senate seat in the South, Lewis has a droll lilt to his voice that suggests he’s winking at the line even as he’s squeezing every last comic drop out of it.

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Restyling memories

A gorgeous new retrospective of work by Nancy Youdelman at the Fresno Art Museum captures the spectacle and solemnity of one of the Fresno area’s top artists

Near the end of Edith Wharton’s bleakly beautiful 1905 novel “The House of Mirth,” the main character — a financially struggling socialite named Lily Bart — rummages through a trunk of her old clothes. Inside are expensive dresses she wore to various elegant events when she occupied a higher rung on the social ladder. Now they are musty and forlorn.

Nancy Youdelman’s ‘Speaking in Colors, 2015.’ Photo / Michael Karibian

As Lily looks at the extravagant gowns, Wharton writes, the scenes in which she wore them rise vividly before her. Each one transports her, if only for a moment, somewhere other than the drudgery of the present. These aren’t just clothes; each one is like a sort of personal archaeological artifact. Wharton writes: “An association lurked in every fold: each fall of lace and gleam of embroidery was like a letter in the record of her past.”

Nancy Youdelman, one of the Fresno area’s most important and best known artists, loves that line in “The House of Mirth.” It’s one of her favorites in all literature. The quotation helps explain the way she can take a discarded dress or shoe and with a practiced eye and flash of creativity turn it into a compelling sculptural object.

One of the highlights of her long-awaited and richly deserved new retrospective at the Fresno Art Museum, titled “Fashioning a Feminist Vision,” is seeing how Youdelman’s techniques have evolved over almost 50 years. She encrusts the garments she uses — all of them second-hand, many purchased on eBay or local thrift shops — with a variety of found objects, resulting in meaningful mixed-media creations. Buttons, dried flowers, costume jewelry, broken pieces of glass and anonymous vintage photos figure prominently in her later works. She’s perfected the technique of using encaustic, a natural resin reheated on a pancake griddle, to transform flimsy fabric into works of rigidity and permanence. The pieces feel as if they could hang on museum walls for hundreds of years.

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The stars at night are big and bright

StageWorks Fresno offers a fundraising night of food, drink and musical performances

StageWorks Fresno transformed the Fresno Art Museum’s sculpture garden into a Broadway cabaret Saturday night at “Theatre Under the Stars,” the non-profit company’s big annual fundraiser. I collected digital autographs of StageWorks performers and artistic personnel. For videos of some of the performances, check out my Instagram Story. Find me on Instagram at @donaldmunroarts (and follow me!).

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Donald’s list: weekend choices (May 19)

Cristobal Selamé performs at Bitwise, Bach Children’s Choir offers spring concert, and the Fresno Art Museum opens new exhibitions

On my list for promising cultural weekend options:

Classical guitar

Bitwise Industries is transforming the local technology industry, and it’s becoming a player in the cultural scene as well thanks to its 160-seat John W. Dodson Theater. The venue hosts Chilean classical guitar virtuoso Cristobal Selamé in a Sunday concert.

Cristobal image
Classical guitarist: Cristobal Selamé will play at Bitwise. Photo /

The event, which is sponsored by California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — Central Valley District, benefits the Helena Kennedy Memorial Scholarship for Fresno State dietetic and nutrition students. Selamé is Helena Kennedy’s nephew.

From the organizers:

The 21-year- old Selamé recently completed studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music under legendary Brazilian guitarist and composer Sérgio Assad, a Grammy Award winner who called his pupil an “upcoming new master.” Selamé has won a number of important classical guitar competitions and was recently accepted into the master’s program at the prestigious Academy of Music in Darmstadt, Germany, under the instruction of the world-renowned musician Tilman Hoppstock.

Sounds like a great opportunity for classical guitar fans, and it’s a worthy cause. (And no extra calories.) Details: 2 p.m. Sunday, May 21, Bitwise South Stadium. $15 in advance through Eventbrite and $17 on the day of the event if tickets remain.

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Three strikes and you’re dancing

Good Company Players choreographer Julie Lucido gets a baseball crash course in ‘Damn Yankees’

Spend any time with Dan Pessano, director of the new Good Company Players production of “Damn Yankees,” and you quickly learn about two great loves of his life: theater and baseball.

It’s no surprise, then, that Julie Lucido, the musical’s choreographer — and not a big baseball fan herself — was a little apprehensive going into the production.

Locker room talk: Jesse McCoy and the cast of ‘Damn Yankees.’ Photo / Good Company Players

“A baseball show with Dan? Yes, I was a bit nervous, especially as I tried to merge dance moves with baseball terms,” she says.

The classic musical is packed with numerous insider baseball references related not only to the 1950s, when it’s set, but also to the structure and nuances of the game, including pitching and umpire signs. Which meant an internet crash course for Lucido.

I caught up with her via Facebook messenger to talk about satisfying a baseball-loving director.

Q: Are you a big baseball fan yourself?

A: I don’t even have a favorite team, but fun fact: In high school I was a stats girl for the baseball team for a year which gave me a little introduction and kept be out of trouble after school.

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Undressing the part

National touring production of ‘Cinderella’ soars visually at Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre


If only deciding what to wear to an important event were this easy.

When our heroine makes her first big transformation in “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” she shifts in a flash from peasant frock to a gorgeous gown and pair of glass slippers, all thanks to a nod from her fairy godmother.

Cinderella isn’t any different “inside” now that she’s wearing that elegant dress. But fashion isn’t so much about utility as it is about making a statement about one’s position in a hierarchical society. You don’t get to go the ball if you’re dressed in rags.

Union of the crowns: Hayden Stanes, Tatyana Lubov and the company of ‘Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.’ Photo / © Carol Rosegg

The moment, then, is important not only in terms of the storyline but also to the show’s underlying theme. And the national touring production, which opened Tuesday at the Saroyan Theatre, does it in spectacular fashion.

William Ivey Long’s Tony Award-winning costumes in the 2013 Broadway adaptation were highly praised at the time. I’d even watched on video the onstage moment when Cinderella’s dress transforms from peasant garb to exquisite garment in a matter of seconds. But to see the metamorphosis of Long’s creations live is downright thrilling, particularly the first big fairy-godmother-blessed moment, when Cinderella (Tatyana Lubov) swirls into a multi-layer white confection studded with jewels.

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Full Fresno State theater season announced

Gina Sandí-Díaz, a new faculty member, will direct ‘Lydia’

Sandi Diaz_Gina pic2
Photo / University of Kansas

Fresno State’s theater department today announced its complete 2017-18 season — and in the process introduced its newest tenure-track faculty member to the community.

Gina Sandí-Díaz, a theater instructor and doctoral student at the University of Kansas, will direct Octavio Solis’ “Lydia” March 16-24. The other five shows in the season were previously announced, with a “TK” indicated for the performance slot that “Lydia” now fills.

From her Linked In page:

Gina Sandí-Díaz is a PhD candidate in the Department of Theatre, University of Kansas. She is also an actor, director and theatre for social change facilitator. Originally from Costa Rica, she has done extensive Applied Theatre projects in vulnerable communities including prisons, psychiatric institutions and earthquake relief areas. Her academic interests include Performance Studies, Latin American Theatre and Performance, Latin@ Theatre in the U.S. and Theatre for Social Change.

With this new hire, Fresno State appears to be putting a new emphasis on Latino theater, which is a welcome development for the theater department and the surrounding community.

The rest of the season:

Sept. 29-Oct. 7: “A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations),” by Sam Shepard. Directed by J. Daniel Herring.

Oct. 27-Nov. 4: “Native Son,” by Nambi E. Kelley, based on the Richard Wright novel. Directed by Thomas-Whit Ellis.

Dec. 1-9: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” by William Shakespeare. Directed by Brad Myers.

Feb. 16-24: Contemporary Dance Ensemble, Kenneth Balint, artistic director.

May 4-12: “A Streetcar Named Desire,” by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Kathleen McKinley.

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